A Literal Interpretation of the Bible?

Who embraces a literal interpretation of the Bible?

No one.

Not the staunchest young earth creationist; not the most fundamentalist Bible-thumper; no one.

Everyone adjusts the Bible for science.

I don't feel very nice telling you what follows. I'm sure that I'm going to make some of you very mad.

I'm sorry. The truth is the truth is the truth, and what I'm telling you is the truth.

What does a Literal Interpretation of the Bible Really Tell Us?

God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament … and God called the firmament "sky." …

   And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars as well. And God set them in the firmament of the sky to give light upon the earth. (Gen. 1:6,7,16, 17, emphasis mine)

Okay, let's ask some simple questions here:

  • What are the greater and lesser lights that rule the day and night? (Sun and moon.)
  • Where did God put the greater and lesser lights and the stars? (In the firmament/sky)
  • What does the firmament/sky with the sun, moon, and stars in it divide? (The waters below from the waters above)
  • Where are the waters above the firmament/sky that contains the sun and moon? (Um … )

Do you see the problem here? There are waters that are above the sun, moon, and stars!

Above doesn't even mean anything in reference to the stars. There is no "up." There is no "down." Thus, there is no above or below.

Sunbeam in woods at Rose Creek Village

The only possible way that this reference to the firmament/sky that contains the sun, moon, and stars could be literal is if there were a band of water completely surrounding the universe. (I hope I didn't just invent a new creationist theory!) That's a lot of water!

Let's Face It...

The reason there are waters above the firmament/sky is because that's where the rain is supposed to come from!

Job, probably the most ancient of the Old Testament books, refers to the "treasuries of the snow" that God has. The Book of Enoch, quoted in Jude, says the same is true of rain:

The spirit of dew has its abode in the extremities of heaven, in connection with the receptacle of rain … and when the spirit of rain is in motion from its receptacle, angels come, and opening its receptacle, bring it forth. (ch. 59:12, translation by Richard Laurence, emphasis mine)

In a creation story as ancient as the one in Genesis, it's not surprising that the sky is a "firmament"—something hard ("firm"–ament)— and that it has water on top of it with which to produce rain. Later Scriptures have better science. Both Psalms and Jeremiah attribute rain to vapors ascending from the ends of the earth (Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13; 51:16).

I know that those who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible will question what I just wrote. I challenge you to find an alternative, plausible explanation for waters that are higher than the sun, moon, and stars.

I've never seen any sort of explanation for the waters above the firmament that is scientifically accurate and agrees with Genesis one. Perhaps, though, someone will one day find one.

Remember, though, the issue is not whether Genesis is correct, but whether it is literal!

This issue is devastating to a literal interpretation of the Bible, at least about science, but the next issue is even worse!

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All Bible verses are taken from the King James Version and updated for language and grammar.

Copyright © 2009-2016 Paul F. Pavao. All rights reserved.